Tuesday, March 19, 2013

CLOSED: Jersey City Internal Affairs Complaint

Police Accountability Project of the
New Jersey Libertarian Party
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875

March 19, 2013

Louis Siranides, Internal Affairs Unit
Jersey City Police Department
1 Journal Square Plaza
Jersey City, NJ 07306
(via e-mail to lsiranides@njjcps.org)

Dear Mr. Siranides:

I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and ask that you accept this letter as our Internal Affairs complaint.  We would like your agency to investigate whether Officer Anthony Goodman and other personnel employed by your agency acted in accordance with department policy and the law regarding a motor vehicle stop and arrest on October 25, 2011.

According to the Appellate Division's decision in State v. Danielle Wheeler, et al, Docket No. A-0196-12T1 (on-line here), Officer Goodman, based on a confidential informant's "grossly vague" tip, pulled over a vehicle driven by Mequanna Cooley.  After the stop, Cooley volunteered information regarding drugs being in the car and also in her apartment.  The trial court suppressed the drugs found in both the car and the apartment because the police "lacked the constitutional authority to initiate the investigative stop" of the vehicle Cooley was driving.


If Goodman, despite having received adequate training and direction regarding when and how to conduct investigative stops, elected to ignore his training, we ask that you discipline him. Otherwise, we ask that your department review and supplement your training requirements in this area of the law.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Very truly yours,
                       
John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party
Police Accountability Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875-5424
Phone: 732-873-1251 - Fax: 908-325-0129
Email: paff@pobox.com

---Subsequent action

March 21, 2013 - complaint acknowledged and assigned (here)\
December 17, 2013 - reassigned to Sergeant Robert W. Sjosward and assigned case number 2013-045
December 17, 2013 - updated status requested (here)
June 12, 2014 - case dismissed on investigation's failure to disclose sufficient evidence (here)

CLOSED: Internal Affairs Complaint against Vineland Police

Police Accountability Project of the
New Jersey Libertarian Party
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875

March 19, 2013

Sergeant Leonard Wolf, Internal Affairs Unit
Vineland City Police Department
111 N. Sixth Street
Vineland, NJ 08360
(via e-mail to lwolf@vinelandcity.org)

Dear Sergeant Wolf:

I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and ask that you accept this letter as our Internal Affairs complaint.  We would like your agency to investigate whether Officer Louis J. Plantania and other personnel employed by your agency acted in accordance with department policy and the law regarding a warrantless search of a motor vehicle on May 25, 2011.

According to the Appellate Division's decision in State v. Perry Wilcox, Docket No. A-4578-11T4 (on-line here), Plantania located a handgun while he was inside a suspect's car without having first obtained a warrant.  The trial court suppressed the gun as the fruit of an invalid search and the Appellate Division affirmed.

If Plantania, despite having received adequate training and direction regarding warrantless searches, elected to ignore his training, we ask that you discipline him.  Otherwise, we ask that your department review and supplement your training requirements in this area of the law.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Very truly yours,
                       
John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party
Police Accountability Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875-5424
Phone: 732-873-1251 - Fax: 908-325-0129
Email: paff@pobox.com

---Subsequent action

March 20, 2013 - complaint acknowledged and assigned (here)

May 9, 2013 - complaint dismissed because officer "followed the appropriate department policies and procedures." (here)

Monday, March 18, 2013

CLOSED: Internal Affairs Complaint - Neptune Township

March 18, 2013

Internal Affairs Unit
Neptune Township Police Department
25 Neptune Blvd.
Neptune, NJ 07753       
(via e-mail only to radams@neptunetownship.org)

RE:  Lieutenant Robert Mangold

Dear Sir or Madam:

I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and ask that you accept this letter as an Internal Affairs complaint.  We would like your agency to investigate whether Lieutenant Robert Mangold and other personnel employed by your agency acted in accordance with department policy and the law regarding a warrantless strip search of Daniel Dolan on October 8, 2011.

According to the Appellate Division's decision in State v. Daniel Dolan, Docket No. A-0623-12T4), (on-line here) despite not having a warrant to do so, Lieutenant Mangold gave Officer Bryce Byham permission to strip-search an arrestee, leading to the discovery to two glassine bags of heroin.  The trial judge found that the strip search was illegal and suppressed the heroin as evidence. The Appellate Division affirmed.


It seems to us that Mangold, as a Lieutenant, should have known better than to authorize this warrantless strip search.  If his training in this area was adequate, we ask that you impose sanctions upon him.  Otherwise, we ask that your department review and supplement the training requirements in this area of the law.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Very truly yours,
                       
John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party
Police Accountability Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875-5424
Phone: 732-873-1251 - Fax: 908-325-0129
Email: paff@pobox.com

-- Subsequent Action

03/20/13 Acknowledgement received (click here)
06/24/13 Officer exonerated (click here)
Neptune Strip Search Policy (click here)
Neptune Arrestee Intake Policy (click here)
Neptune Traffic and Pedestrian Stop Policy (click here)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

CLOSED: Internal Affairs Complaint against Howell Township (Monmouth County)

March 16, 2013

Captain Andrew Kudrick, Jr.
Office of Internal Affairs
Howell Township Police Department
300 Old Tavern Road
Howell, N.J. 07731.
Via E-mail to akudrick@howellpolice.org

Dear Captain Kudrick:

I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and seek an Internal Affairs investigation into the circumstances surrounding a March 22, 2011 arrest of Larry Basko arrest on West Third Street.  The primary Howell officer involved was Michael Pavlick.  The facts regarding the arrest are contained in the Appellate Division's March 15, 2013 decision in State v. Basko, which is on-line here.

A trial judge found that Pavlick's discovery of illegal drugs in Basko's van during a warrantless search could not be used as evidence against Basko.  Even though Basko had consented to the search of his van, the trial judge found that Basko's consent was coerced by Pavlick.  According to the decision, Basko initially refused to consent to the search but changed his mind after Pavlick threatened to "call a drug detector dog over" and that if the dog alerted to the presence of contraband, the police would impound the van and apply for a search warrant.

We note that the tactic used by Pavlick--threatening to call in police dogs unless a motorist consents to a search--was referenced in the case of State v. Carty, 170 N.J. 632, 645 (2002).  In that case, New Jersey Supreme Court quoted the United States Supreme Court's statement--particularly apt here--that “‘Consent’ that is the product of official intimidation or harassment is not consent at all. Citizens do not forfeit their constitutional rights when they are coerced to comply with a request that they would prefer to refuse.” Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 438, 111 S.Ct. 2382, 2388, 115 L.Ed.2d 389 (1991).

As part of your investigation of matter, we ask that you determine whether or not Officer Pavlick, through his training, was taught to refrain from using coercive tactics to secure "consent" to warrantless searches.  If he was so taught, we ask you to impose discipline upon him.  Otherwise, we ask that you update your training to address this issue.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Very truly yours,

John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Police Accountability Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875
Voice: 732-873-1251
Fax: 908-325-0129
e-mail: paff@pobox.com

---Subsequent action

May 11, 2013 - complaint dismissed because officer's conduct "did not violate any rules, regulations, standing operating procedures, directives or training." (here)

June 17, 2013 - OPRA request and letter of inquiry to Howell Township Councilwoman (here).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

IA Complaint against Union City police

Attn: Sergeant Anthony Facchini
Union City Police Internal Affairs Unit
3715 Palisade Avenue
Union City, NJ 07087
via e-mail only to afacchini@ucnj.com

Dear Sergeant Facchini:

I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Police Accountability Project and seek an Internal Affairs investigation into the circumstances surrounding a May 23, 2009 arrest of Juan C. Peguero of 514 3rd Street, Union City.  The Union City officers involved were Alex Ruperto, Jose Castillo and Damien DiFazio and Sergeants Dominick DePinto and John Dowling

Peguero's encounter with the Union City Police fits a familiar pattern:

1. The arrestee sues, claiming to have been brutalized by the police.  (In this case, Peguero claims that the officers were out looking for him "to punch [him] in the face."  When the officers found him, he was punched in the mouth by Officer Ruperto, causing his head to strike a concrete column and then beaten by other officers after he was on the ground.)

2. The officers, in their incident reports, describe the incident much differently.  (In this case, the officers claim that Peguero, in order to avoid arrest, threatened to turn his "large pit bull" on them.  The officers claim that they used the minimum amount of force necessary to subdue Peguero and their actions caused only a "minor laceration" to his lip.)

3. After a couple of years pass, the arrestee settles the case with the police department's insurer.  (In this case, Peguero's claim was settled for $106,500.)

4. The police department's insurer and attorneys make sure that the settlement agreement recites that none of the officers did anything wrong and that the settlement "is being entered into solely for the purpose of economic expediency." (See ¶ 5 of the settlement agreement.)

5. The police department's insurer and attorney, in an apparent attempt to keep the taxpayers from finding out about the settlement, include a confidentiality provision within the settlement agreement that prohibits the arrestee from publicly disclosing the settlement terms or even the fact that the settlement agreement exists. (See ¶ 8 of the settlement agreement.)

Peguero's lawsuit and settlement agreement, together with Ruperto's and DePinto's incident reports are on-line here.

We in the public cannot determine who, if anyone, was at fault based on the available information.  If we could prove that the the officers were at fault, we could demand that they be fired and charged with criminal offenses.  If we could prove that Peguero fabricated the basis of his lawsuit, we could publicly criticize and demand the removal of the officials who decided to pay him $106,500 for a meritless claim and perhaps recover the money Peguero wrongfully received.  If we could prove that the civil litigation system is so flawed that it makes financial sense for the police department to pay $106,500 to an arrestee who suffered nothing more than a cut on his lip, we could demand that the system be overhauled and replaced with something more efficient.

The problem is that we don't have enough information to allow us to know where and in what manner to direct our energies.  All that we do know is that under the current system the same scenario will play out over and over again imposing a heavy financial burden on police departments and the taxpayers that fund them.

The only avenue that citizens who are frustrated by this process have is the police Internal Affairs function.  If the IA function works in a non-biased and thorough manner, the outcome of a complaint against officers who allegedly abused an arrestee can help inform us of whether the officers were actually at fault.  If, for example, your police department, in response to the present complaint, were to discipline the officers, we would be in a better position to conclude that Peguero did not overstate his grievance and probably deserved the money.  If, however, your police department were to exonerate the officers, we would, if we trusted the IA investigative process (the process is conducted in complete secrecy, which makes it very hard for the public to trust the outcome), be in a better position to believe that Peguero exaggerated his claims and injuries.

In sum, even though the outcome of this IA complaint (which I will, upon receipt of it, post on the Internet) may not provide us with all the information we need, it will at least provide us with more information than we currently have.

Accordingly, even though I don't have any independent knowledge of what happened, I wish to complain, on the strength of Peguero's lawsuit's allegations, that Ruperto, DePinto and the other officers violated the law and/or police department regulations in the manner in which they treated Peguero at the time of his May 23, 2009 arrest.  I ask that the Union City Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit conduct a full investigation into this matter and let me know the result. (Even though the event occurred nearly four years ago, it was witnessed by many people, both police and civilian.  We believe that at least some of them will presently be available to be interviewed.)

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Police Accountability Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875
Voice: 732-873-1251
Fax: 908-325-0129
e-mail: paff@pobox.com

--------

Subsequent action:

08/15/17 - followed up with IA Unit, click here.
08/16/17 - informed that officer was exonerated, click here.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

IA Complaint against Stafford (Ocean County) police officer

Police Accountability Project of the
New Jersey Libertarian Party
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875

March 10, 2013

Director, Internal Affairs Unit
Stafford Township Police Department
260 East Bay Ave
Manahawkin, NJ  08050-3329
(via e-mail to Chief Joseph Giberson at JGiberson@staffordpolice.org)

Dear Sir or Madam:

Please accept this e-mail as our Internal Affairs complaint against a Stafford Township police officer whose identity is not yet known to us.  He is depicted on a video taken by a patrol car's dash-mounted camera as having patted down and reached inside the pockets of a man who was the subject of a December 26, 2012, 12:37 p.m. traffic stop. 


We ask that you please accept this complaint in the spirit in which it is intended.  We are not seeking to have the officer punished as much as we wish to educate ourselves, your department and the public on the limits the state and federal constitutions impose on officers who conduct warrantless searches.

We base our complaint upon United States District Court Judge Freda L. Wolfson's July 19, 2011 opinion in Maria Broadnax v. Borough of North Plainfield, et al, Case No. 3:10-cv-00837, which is available on-line here.  The issue before Judge Wolfson was "whether [the police officer's] actions in seizing [Ms. Broadnax], and searching her by reaching his hand into jeans pockets, violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure." (Opinion, page 10).  (Following Judge Wolfson's opinion is a settlement agreement showing that Ms. Broadnax and her lawyer received a $5,000 settlement on her claim that her Fourth Amendment rights were violated.)

Judge Wolfson first found that an officer is not allowed to pat down an occupant of a motor vehicle unless "he has a reasonable suspicion that the occupant might be armed and dangerous.”  In order for the Stafford officer's pat-down to be constitutional, he would need to point to “specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warranted the pat-down.”  (Opinion, page 11). We would like the Internal Affairs Unit to determine if the officer, under this standard, was justified in conducting his pat-down search.

The next issue is the constitutionality of the officer reaching his hands inside the man's pockets.  As noted by Judge Wolfson, the United States Supreme Court has drawn a "bright-line distinction between an officer patting down an individual's 'outer clothing' and an officer 'placing his hands in their pockets.'" (Opinion, page 13)  As the court explained, it is one thing for an officer to protect himself and others by patting down the outside of a person's clothing to detect a protrusion, which might be a gun, knife or other weapon.  It is quite another, however, for "an officer [to reach] into an individual’s pocket without reasonably concluding that the individual was armed and dangerous."  (Opinion, page 15)  Here, it appears that the Stafford officer "did not limit his initial search to [the man's] outer clothing 'until he . . . felt weapons,' but bypassed this critical step" without apparent justification.  We would like the Internal Affairs Unit to determine if circumstances existed that justified this officer reaching into the man's pockets.

Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.  We look forward to hearing from you.  Also, we direct your attention to the following Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request and ask that you please forward it to your records custodian.

Very truly yours,

John Paff, Chairman
Police Accountability Project
Voice: 732-873-1251
Fax: 908-325-0129
E-mail: paff@pobox.com

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
OPRA request

Please accept this e-mail as my request for government records in accordance with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access.  Please respond and send all responsive documents to me via e-mail at paff@pobox.com.  If e-mail is not possible, please fax responses and responsive records to me at 908-325-0129.  Also, I would appreciate it if you would acknowledge your receipt of this e-mail.

1. A record showing the name, title, position and salary of the officer against whom the Libertarian Party's March 4, 2013 complaint was filed.  (This information is accessible under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10.)

2. Any rule, regulation, standard operating procedure or other writing that addresses the duty of Stafford police officers to not violate a citizen's right to be free from impermissible searches and seizures.

3. All summonses arising out of the traffic stop depicted on the video that formed the basis of the Libertarian Party's March 4, 2013 complaint.
--------------------------------

Subsequent action:

March 19, 2013  Acknowledgement
April 9, 2013 Closing Letter (Not Sustained)